"THE SPIRIT ITSELF," OR,
THE GREATEST DEFECT IN THE KING JAMES VERSION

By Doug Kutilek 

[Reprinted from "As I See It," vol. 2, no. 9, September, 1999]

 

Any honest evaluation of the King James Version of the Bible leads to the conclusion that it has numerous defects as a translation, some major, most minor. Among these are places where it certainly does not follow the reading of the original manuscripts, places where its rendering violates Greek or Hebrew grammar, and places where it is simply inaccurate, unintelligible or obscure. But of these translationally related defects, among the most serious, quite probably the worst of the lot, is its occasional use of the English pronoun "it" to refer to the Holy Spirit.
 

At least four times in the King James Version of the Bible, the blessed Holy Spirit, Third Person of the Trinity, is referred to by the degrading word "it"-- 

John 1:32 "And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and IT abode upon him." 

Romans 8:16 "The Spirit ITSELF beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."

 Romans 8:26b "The Spirit ITSELF maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

 I Peter 1:11 "Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when IT testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow."

(Quoted according to the KJV text as found in the Old Scofield Bible; emphasis added). 

In this regard--that is, calling the Holy Spirit "it" four times instead of "he" "or "himself"--the KJV is paralleled (to my knowledge) in English Bible versions currently in use only in the Jehovah's Witnesses' corrupt New World Translation, a translation deliberately falsified to exclude all references to the Deity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Jehovah's Witness translation agrees exactly with the KJV in calling the Holy Spirit "it" in all four passages. 

I checked the New King James Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Living Bible, the New Living Translation, the Contemporary English Version, Today's English Version, the New English Bible, Moffat's translation, the Revised Standard Version (1946) and the New Revised Standard Version (1990). Only the last two--the RSV and the NRSV--imitate the KJV in any of these passages, the RSV referring to the Holy Spirit as "it" in John 1:32, while the NRSV does so in both John 1:32 and I Peter 1:11. Even the 21st Century King James Version calls the Holy Spirit "it" in only the first three references (in I Peter reading "He"). 

So, the KJV shares this distinction only with the NWT of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and to a lesser extent with the RSV and NRSV translations of the apostate National Council of Churches. If it were the NIV or the NASB and not the KJV which had this feature in common with these notoriously unreliable versions, it would be shouted from the rooftops by Ruckman, Waite, Riplinger, Cloud, and the rest of the KJVO rabble. But because it is the KJV, they are silent as a tomb, and are very accommodating to this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. 

To call any person, but especially to call one of the Persons of the Trinity by the English pronoun "it" is degrading and debasing, and is inexcusable. The correct pronoun--the ONLY correct pronoun--in such a case is "He." 

This use in the KJV of the neuter pronoun "it" to refer to a Divine Person has many defenders among the King James Only extremists. They argue that the Greek noun PNEUMA-- "Spirit"--and the pronoun AUTO used in Romans 8:16, 26 are grammatically neuter and therefore the pronoun is correctly translated by the neuter English pronoun "it." (John 1:32 and I Peter 1:11 have no pronoun in Greek, so any pronoun used in the English translation is one supplied by the translator). 

Such an assertion displays an ignorance of both Greek and English grammar. While Greek does have grammatical gender, English has only natural gender; and while in Greek nouns relating to persons may be neuter (such as TEKNON and PAIDION, both words for "child", just as MAEDCHEN, "girl" in German is also grammatically neuter), it does not follow that these nouns describe "its" rather than "hes" or "shes," and when translating into English, no one would sensibly translate "the child, it. . ." or "the girl, it. . ." Yet , "the Holy Spirit, it. . ." is defended!

Not only that, but in the Old Testament, the word for "Spirit" (RUACH) is often feminine in grammatical gender (Hebrew has no neuter), such as Genesis 1:2, and Judges 6:34 and many other places. Does this mean that in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit should be called "she"? Perish the thought, yet to be consistent with their defense of the KJV's fourfold "it" in the New Testament on the basis of Greek grammatical gender, KJVOers should insist that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit should be referred to as "she." 

Some who proclaim the KJV to be error-free, among them David Cloud, editor of "O Timothy," have a strange reticence in defending the KJV on this point. About four years ago, Cloud and I exchanged a number of letters on the KJV issue. In four or five consecutive letters, I specifically challenged him to tell me whether he believed the KJV was correct to call the Holy Spirit "it." He never once had the courage to address the issue. I suspect that he knew deep in his inner soul that on this point at least, the KJV was very seriously in error and was completely indefensible. If he thinks otherwise, why has he no courage to state his opinion? 

I will plainly state my opinion on the matter: I think that here the KJV comes dangerously close to blasphemy, if it does not in fact actually wander into it. 

The fault is not in the original text, but in the translation. When Paul uses a neuter Greek pronoun AUTO, "himself," to refer to the Holy Spirit twice in Romans 8 (no pronoun is used in John 1:32 or I Peter 1:11), he does so for grammatical regularity. In Greek, as in Spanish, French, German, Latin, Romanian, and many other languages, pronouns, like adjectives and the definite article, must agree with the noun they modify in gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), number (singular, dual, or plural) and case (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative). By using AUTO, the neuter, instead of the masculine form AUTOS, Paul was merely conforming to standard Greek grammar. 

By way of comparison, John--a native speaker of Aramaic (a sister language to Hebrew in which the word for "spirit" is also feminine)--occasionally uses the masculine demonstrative pronoun EKEINOS when referring to the Holy Spirit (John 14:25; 15:26; 16:8); once he uses the masculine pronoun AUTON (John16:7). Of course, in each case, John is quoting Jesus, who may have been speaking in Greek, or who may have spoken in Aramaic, which John, under the Holy Spirit's unerring guidance, translated into Greek. John uses masculine pronouns ad sensum, in "violation" of standard Greek practice, to refer to the Holy Spirit, a Divine Person. 

How did this practice of calling the Holy Spirit "it" enter the KJV? Emory H. Bancroft, long-time Professor of Doctrine and Systematic Theology at the Baptist Bible Seminary in Johnson City, New York, wrote what has been one of the most widely-used Bible college theology textbooks, CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY: SYSTEMATIC AND BIBLICAL (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961. Revised edition]). It was, for example, one of two standard theology textbooks at Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Missouri during my student days there, as well as for many years both before and after. Bancroft directly addresses the issue of the KJV's reference to the Holy Spirit as "it" and offers some very serious criticisms of the theology of the KJV translators:

 "In the Authorized Version, the personal pronoun which refers to the Holy Spirit is translated by the neuter 'it,' as an index of the trend of thought among Christian people of that time. Men prayed of the Spirit as of 'it,' an influence, an energy, proving that the Socinian teaching had chilled the zeal and enthusiasm of the Christian doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. A striking evidence of the revival of the truth concerning the personality of the Holy Spirit is the reintroduction into the revised version of the masculine pronoun wherever the Spirit is referred to." (pp. 147-148) 

If Bancroft is correct, the charge of heresy on the part of the at least some of the KJV translators cannot be denied. This would be yet one more in the list of their heresies, false doctrines and false practices, including baptismal regeneration and salvation only in the church, the union of church and state, infant baptism, persecution of dissent, hierarchical church government, a special priest class, clerical vestments, the "real presence" of Christ in the Lord's supper, amillennialism, and more. If KJVO advocates were to judge the theology of the KJV translators (and Erasmus) as severely as they judge the theology of Westcott and Hort, they would never touch the KJV (or the textus receptus) again. 

It is to be noted that the KJV was at least in part, but only in part, following the practice of earlier English versions. What follows are the results of a search of editions available to me. 

In John 1:32, Tyndale's first edition (1526) read "it" but his revised edition (1534) did not, nor did the revisions of Cranmer (1539) or Coverdale (1540), which simply supplied no pronoun in translation. The Geneva New Testament of 1557 did not read "it," but the editions of 1560, 1562 and 1607 did. Likewise, the Bishops' Bible edition of 1602 had "it." The Roman Catholic Rheims New Testament of 1582 reads "he."

 In Romans 8:16, Tyndale (both 1526 and 1534) has "the same sprete" [that is, spirit] as do Cranmer and Coverdale. The Geneva reads "the which selfe same Sprite" [that is, Spirit] in the 1557 edition, but "the same Spirit" in the editions of 1560, 1562, and 1607. The Bishop's edition of 1602 has "The Spirit it selfe," while the Rheims has "the Spirit him selfe."

 At Romans 8:26, Tyndale (both editions) plus Cranmer and Coverdale have "the sprete." Geneva 1557 has "the Sprite," while the other three Geneva editions have "the Spirit it self(e)," as does the Bishops' Bible. Rheims reads "him self." 

In I Peter 1:11, none of the versions examined offered any precedent for the KJV translation "it," all reading otherwise.

 In summary, the KJV had no agreement with Tyndale 1534, Cranmer, Coverdale, Geneva 1557, and Rheims in any of the four passages (0:4); with Tyndale 1526, the agreement was only once (1:4); with the Geneva 1560, 1560, 1607, agreement was only half (2:4); with the Bishops', agreement was in three-fourths (3:4). The KJV calls the Holy Spirit "it" more than any of the translations before it. 

Some might try to justify or excuse the KJV translators by saying that they were merely following their predecessors. This is hardly an excuse. In truth, fully half of these English translations examined never called the Holy Spirit "it," and another one--Tyndale's first edition--did so just once, a reading which he subsequently changed in his revised edition. Only the Bishops' Bible comes close to setting a pattern followed by the KJV. Yet, the KJV outdid even the Bishops' by adding another passage--I Peter 1:11--where the Holy Spirit is addressed by the degrading pronoun "it." 

Furthermore, it was the duty and responsibility of the KJV translators to carefully examine prior translations and correct their defects. This they utterly failed to do in these passages, leaving the defective rendering of the Bishops' Bible intact in three places and introducing an error in a fourth. Whatever their predecessors did or did not read cannot excuse the KJV men on this point.

The KJV by its four-fold reference to the Holy Spirit as "it" set a precedent that had and even yet has a long and pernicious life. Error dies hard, especially once entrenched. When later scholars set to revise the KJV, they often left these four passages uncorrected. Henry Alford's mid-19th century revised English version left the KJV uncorrected in all four verses. The American Bible Union (Baptist) revised New Testament of 1865 (2nd edition, 1867) also let this old error stand uncorrected in all four verses. Even the later revision of this translation done by Henry Weston, Alvah Hovey and John Broadus (published ca. 1889) leaves "it" in John 1:32, though Romans 8:16, 26 read "himself" and I Peter 1:11 has "he." 

The English Revised Version of 1881 retains the KJV's "it" in John 1:32 and I Peter 1:11, but has "himself" in both Romans 8 verses. Its American "cousin," the American Standard Version follows the same pattern, but also introduces a new error in this regard. At Acts 8:16, contrary to all previous English versions I have examined which read "he," the ASV has, "for as yet it [that is, the Holy Spirit] was fallen upon none of them." While correcting the errors in Romans 8:16, 26, the ASV introduces one here, for which it could and should be blamed. The RSV of 1946 follows the ASV at this point, as does the New World Translation.

 It is only when we arrive at the twentieth century (aside from the Catholic Rheims translation of 1582) do we find English versions which consistently and correctly identify the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, as "He" rather than the blatantly erroneous "it" and "itself" so-long propagated by the KJV. It is indeed a very telling fact that only the KJV and the Arian New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses continue to disseminate this error in our day.

Those who imagine that the KJV, unlike any translation of the Bible before or since in any language, is faultless and error-free are compelled to address the matter: are the Arians, Socinians and Jehovah's Witnesses right? Is the Holy Spirit correctly and properly spoken of as "it" rather than "He"? Only if these heretical groups are right can the KJV be deemed infallibly correct in its translation of John 1:32, Romans 8:16, 26, and I Peter 1:11.